Lewis Ritson is a strong favourite to beat Miguel Vazquez and move closer to a potential shot at a world title in a hometown bout recently announced for the Utilita Arena in Newcastle.
Ritson, who has just lost once in his 21 professional fights to date, is a rising star of British boxing with former IBF lightweight champion Vazquez not expected to offer much resistance.
Francesco Patera is the only fighter to have got the better of Ritson so far. Their October 2018 bout for the vacant European lightweight title went to a shocking split decision. Ritson himself commented that the ‘better man won on the night’. The 26-year-old is now being backed to go all the way after making a long-awaited move up to light welterweight.
The Ritson vs Vazquez fight is set to take place on Apr 4 with the bookmakers unanimous in their belief that Ritson will collect a relatively easy victory to propel him into the big time.
Hometown hero Ritson to put on another blockbuster show
Similarly to Leeds boxer Josh Warrington, Ritson puts on a real show when he fights in his home city of Newcastle, which has hosted four of his previous bouts including his 2015 professional debut, when he beat Kristian Laight.
The lifelong Newcastle United supporter revels in being able to box in front of his home fans and he wears the black and white stripes of the Magpies on his shorts. He also enters the ring to the iconic local folk song Blaydon Races, which helps to get the crowd in the mood for a great night, not that his Geordie fans typically need any encouragement on that front.
Ritson, who has fought all over the north-east of England in his career, has experienced highs and lows boxing at the Utilita Arena, which was where he suffered his surprise loss to Patera in 2018. Ritson was caught by a powerful body shot in that contest and he failed to recover from the blow, though one of the judges still scored the contest 116–112 in his favour.
That Patera loss proved a key moment in Ritson's career as he opted not to defend his British lightweight title - a fight against Andy Townend had been expected - with the boxer instead choosing to move up a weight class to take on German Argentino Benitez. The Argentine was no match for Ritson on the night as he took the WBA Inter-Continental super-lightweight title by unanimous decision after an impressive display over 10 rounds of controlled punching.
Marek Jedrzejewski of Poland was then stopped in the third round before Ritson continued his elevation to stardom with an eye-catching defeat of Robbie Davies Jr, the Liverpudlian losing on points after a thrilling fight saw Ritson - nicknamed Sandman - rise to the occasion in style.
Another victory will be expected to follow suit when Ritson and Vazquez face off, though the Mexican racked up some fine wins earlier in his career. He will be hoping to hit those heights again after showing indifferent form over the course of the last few years.
Can Vazquez return to his former glories?
Vazquez has had a remarkable rise and fall, having started out with a loss to a 15-year-old Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez before reeling off 18 wins on the bounce in his native Mexico to earn a shot at the WBC Youth light welterweight title against Timothy Bradley.
The American came out on top on that occasion but Vazquez still made a name for himself on his biggest stage to date. Though he lost to Canelo again in 2008, Vazquez had built a 24–3 record when he stepped up to face Breidis Prescott. Vazquez was knocked down early in the contest but recovered brilliantly to inflict the first defeat of Prescott's career by split decision.
Vazquez then claimed the vacant IBF lightweight title by beating Kim Ji-hoon in 2010 and a string of comfortable defences followed. Boxing fans never quite took to the Mexican, however, due to a fighting style that was widely perceived to be overly negative and defensive, while some of his tactics in the ring have been questionable to say the least.
Results were speaking for themselves, though, with Vazquez at 34–3 and widely considered to be among the most effective fighters in the world when he took on Mickey Bey in 2014, with that bout taking place on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather Jr vs. Marcos Maidana II.
A split decision meant Vazquez lost for the first time in six years, but it was a controversial call. One judge amazingly scored it 119–109 for Bey despite the fight having clearly been closely contested. The other judges scored it 115–113 with Vazquez in no doubt he had won the fight.
Defeat to Bey had a huge impact on the dethroned Vazquez and although he bounced back to beat Jerry Belmontes he then suffered another loss to Argenis Mendez as he adapted to a bulkier physique. A run of four straight wins earned a shot at the WBC Silver light welterweight title but Vazquez suffered his first knockout in 45 fights, losing to Scottish fighter Josh Taylor.
Taylor - nicknamed the Tartan Tornado - is now one of the men in Ritson's sights but, for Vazquez, this fight will be a chance to show his career still has legs. He has lost four of his past seven fights, including a defeat to Batyrzhan Jukembayev for the vacant WBA Continental and IBF Inter-Continental light welterweight titles last September. At 33, his age is against him now.
Ritson a serious contender in light welterweight division
While Vazquez is struggling to get back to his best, Ritson is still improving at a rapid rate. His promoter Eddie Hearn insists a world title bout is not too far away for the Newcastle-born boxer.
"This is the kind of fight that will confirm to him, and his team, that it's the right time," said Hearn. "He is stepping up to face an elite fighter who has dominated the division."
Assuming Ritson beats the fading Vazquez, next up could be either Regis Prograis or Maurice Hooker as the division awaits a potential super-fight later this year between Taylor - who has the IBF and WBA belts - and Jose Ramirez, the American who holds the WBC and WBO crowns.
"This is the fight I need for the experience to get to that level. I showed in my last fight that I'm capable of getting there," Ritson said at a recent press conference.
"Vazquez will feel like he's fighting two people, with the atmosphere. I'll show that I can go onto fight for a world title. He can do a bit of everything, it will be a very tough night. We'll come up with a good game-plan, stick to it, and win."
It cannot be underestimated what impact fighting in front of his passionate home supporters has for Ritson, while a Vazquez victory would surely be one of the biggest boxing upsets of 2020.
Ritson vs Vazquez betting odds
Betting sites in the UK have the British boxer to be an extremely strong favourite to move up to a 20–1 record and inflict the 10th defeat of the Mexican's career to date.
Ritson is offered at around the 1/16 mark to maintain his recent momentum with what would be his biggest professional win against a former long-term world champion in Vazquez.
There have been few signs of Vazquez being able to recapture a world title belt, despite the 33-year-old insisting he can still take a seat at boxing's top table again, with the Mexican available to back at a price of 8/1 for the April bout.
While that may look on the surface to be generous for a fighter who outclassed Prescott at his peak, it is several years since Vazquez was an elite performer and Ritson is likely to be far too strong for him on the night, especially with the vocal backing of a home crowd behind him.
Draws remain rare in boxing but big odds of 22/1 might prove tempting for anyone who is willing to back Vazquez to roll back the years and match Ritson - seven years his junior - in the ring.
Ritson vs Vazquez prediction
With a world title shot expected to be on the table for Ritson in the next couple of years, the Vazquez fight is not one where he can afford to slip up.
As long as Ritson boxes to anything like his huge potential he will be celebrating another win in front of his home support in Newcastle, with Vazquez's glory days looking well behind him.
Vazquez has only been beaten by knockout once in his career, however, with that loss coming against Taylor, a fighter boasting a much more powerful punch than Ritson possesses.
With eight of the 20 wins Ritson has racked up in his professional career coming by decision, this looks to be the most likely outcome by far on the night.
Ritson is unlikely to be in any hurry to bring the bout to an end as he takes the spotlight and tries to show he is ready to face fighters of the quality of Taylor and Ramirez in the near future.
Prediction: Ritson by unanimous decision.